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The Garden House + The Big House Beaverbrook Surrey

Journeying Mercies

We’re off to Beaverbrook. Come hail (a lot) or shine (a little) an A Class Mercedes spinning through Surrey on the stormiest day of the year is just what the doctor ordered although possibly not the meteorologist. The gated sprawling estate – legendary hectares of rollingness – is divided into The Haves (see you at The Garden House) and The Haves Even More (we’ll be calling up to see you at The Big House). Ever versatile, we’ll do both. Especially since our guests have travelled 12 hours to make if for lunch.

So what’s the hotel really like? Well, take the terrace of Castle Leslie (County Monaghan), the parterre of Luton Hoo (Bedfordshire), the grotto of Curraghmore (County Waterford), the glasshouse of Walmer Castle (Kent), The Carriage Rooms of Montalto (County Down), the glamour of Corniche John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Marseille) and throw in a larger than life Kensington Palace Gardens villa (London) and you’ll get the picture.

The Garden House staff, led by the stylish restaurant manager from Battersea, are so gregarious that by the dill and beetroot amuse bouches we’re swapping film tips (Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is very watchable but what is Dame Judy’s mangled accent all about?). It’s easy to get into the tongue and groove of rural life. There are more pictures of prize cows on the Farrow and Ball’d walls than a mar’t auction catalogue. Outside the storm is brewing again but we’re in the old fashioned sitting room propped up by Christian Lundsteen cushions and Old Fashioned cocktails. All hatches are battened down… except for The Drinking Hole.

Can life get any better? Yes it can: lunch is being served in the dining room next door. Before long we’re devouring farmers’ helpings of crispy polenta squid with smoked garlic, basil and lime, followed by Dorset halloumi and heritage beetroot with radicchio, date and parsley. Everything, and we mean everything, is freshly wild and wildly fresh. Our well informed waiter tells us about the hotel’s Sir Winston Churchill connection and the Spitfire emblem and the eponymous Lord Beaverbrook but ever so distractingly the restaurant manager arrives with salted chocolate and blood orange petit fours masquerading as “posh Jaffa cakes”.

Forbes, the only other publication to join us a few years ago in Montenegro at the behest of the Government of the former Yugoslavian state, has beaten us to today’s destination. Its verdict? “Beaverbrook is arguably England’s most beautiful new hotel.” Last week’s Sunday Times is almost as glowing, “One of the UK’s top country house hotels.” Scrawled on a blackboard in the glasshouse is a flower recipe, “Wax flower, statis, limonium, gypsophila, spag. moss.” It’s a metaphor for Beaverbrook: classy, quirky and drawing on the best that nature has to offer.

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Ballyshannon Donegal +

Sights and Thoughts

In England, thanks to Pall Mall the noun “mall” (rhymes with “Al”) conjures up images of grand boulevards lined with majestic buildings. In America, it’s an out of town covered shopping centre (rhymes with “all”). In Ireland, it’s something else altogether. While alumni of University of Ulster may remember The Mall as being the wide corridor linking the main lecture theatres of the Jordanstown campus, it is more recognisable as a street name in town centres.

The Mall in Ballyshannon is definitely at the lower key end of the Irish variety. It begins to the west of Upper Main Street with a variety of late 18th century and early 19th century townhouses and, passing Mall Quay, gradually peters out further to the west into a semirural lane looping round the Erne Estuary.  Parallel with The Mall to the north is the even more informal Back Mall. The arched laneway abutting Dorrians Imperial Hotel at the most easterly end of Back Mall is a nerve wrecking few millimetres wider than the average car.

Clinging to the edge of the island of Ireland, Ballyshannon is steeped in history. The name comes from Béal Átha Seanaidh meaning “The Mouth of Seannach’s Ford”. Seannach was a 5th century warrior. The town’s existence was formalised by Royal Charter in 1613 but archaeological digs have revealed it dates back thousands of years. In 1423, Niall Garbh O Domhnaill Chieftain of the O’Donnell Clan built a castle in the settlement, long demolished. Ballyshannon was the scene of a siege and defeat of the Crown forces by Red Hugh O’Donnell in 1597. It was created a Borough by Royal Charter in 1613. Ballyshannon was the birthplace in the 18th century of politician William Connolly; Elizabeth Dixon, Mary Shelley’s grandmother; and Mathilda Thornley Blake, Bram Stoker’s mother. So two links to gothic horrors: Frankenstein and Dracula.

The town is built on a hill rising up from the north bank of the River Erne. A smaller portion of the town lies to the south of the river including a series of distinguished villas backing onto the Erne Estuary. The oldest surviving building is the long low former Barracks dating from 1700. This is a well disguised (being converted into miscellaneous shops) relic of a colonial past. Main Street splits into Upper Main Street and Castle Street to form a loop round the town centre.

One of the most prominent buildings in Ballyshannon, highly visible in long distance views of the town, is the former bank with a clock and bell tower on Main Street. It reaches the equivalent of eight storeys in height: a skyscraper in relative terms for County Donegal. Scottish baronial crow step gables – a little bit of the Highlands on the Wild Atlantic Way – add more drama to its silhouette. Opened in 1878, the building is constructed of rubblestone with cut ashlar details. A single storey wing in a surprisingly neoclassical vein fronts Castle Street. Paired Corinthian columns in front of corresponding pilasters frame entrance doors and support a pediment flanked by an arch headed window on one side and an archway on the other.

The café Tête à Tête on The Diamond in the lower end of the town centre serves the best halloumi and sourdough in the northwest. Chef Guillaume Lamandais and his wife Iwona bring a little bit of Brittainy to the Wild Atlantic Way. At the upper end of the town centre, straddling the hilltop, is Abbey Arts Centre which houses a film club. Upcoming attractions are Arracht directed by Tomás Ó Súilleabháin (the 1845 Great Hunger of Ireland); Redemption of a Rogue by Philip Doherty (a modern Irish take on the prodigal son story); and English director Ben Sharrock’s Limbo (a fictional Syrian musician on a Scottish island awaiting an asylum claim).

When it comes to ecclesiastical buildings Ballyshannon doesn’t do wallflower architecture. This is the bold and proud northwest. It is a strategic location in south Donegal close to Counties Fermanagh and Leitrim and in more recent times the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Church of Ireland is spectacularly positioned to the west of Main Street high above Erne Estuary with far reaching views of Tullan Strand to the west and Ben Bulben Mountain in County Sligo to the southwest. The former Presbyterian Church, now vacant, is lower lying on The Mall. To the east of Main Street, St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks down on the town. All of them grey in hue, St Patrick’s wins the award for architecture as topography. Surely it was hewed and chiselled not designed and built.

Alistair Rowan writes about all the churches in his 1979 Buildings of Ireland: Northwest Ulster, sponsored by Lord Dunleath’s Charitable Trust. “St Anne, Kilbarron Parish Church (Church of Ireland). 18th century, rebuilt in 1841 ‘in the Saxon style of architecture’ by the Reverend Tredennick to designs of William Farrell. A big five bay two storey hall with a high roof that dwarfs the west tower to which it is attached. This is probably a remnant of the old church of 1745… Farrell’s church is in ashlar sandstone with the windows recessed between flat strips of masonry, a sort of economical Norman originated by Smirke.” The church isn’t dissimilar from William Farrell’s Church of Ireland in Pettigo of three years earlier.

St Patrick. A long stone church set sideways to the ridge of the hill. Primitive Norman detailing. Seven bay two storey. In the middle of the north side is a big square tower and spire, inscribed ‘Dan Campbell, Builder, 1842’. J J McCarthy added the polygonal chancel in 1860.” And finally, “Presbyterian Church. Jumbled Nonconformist Gothic. A three bay hall in stone with Y traceried windows, built for Dr James Murphy about 1840, and extended in a T plan at its west end.”

Camlin Tower is a distractingly striking landmark on a bend on the Belleek road just outside Ballyshannon. It is a battlemented gate tower attached to a grand gated archway which opens onto a lane leading to… a derelict cottage, a barn and a field full of shire horses. Camlin was once the seat of the Trendennick family from Bodwin, Cornwall; they bought the estate from William Connolly in circa 1718. The big house was rebuilt in 1838 to the design of John Benjamin Keane. It was a two storey five bay Tudor Gothic building similar to the same architect’s Castle Irvine in County Fermanagh. The estate was sold to the Land Commission at the turn of last century. The house was erroneously demolished as part of the mid 20th century Ballyshannon Hydroelectric Scheme works. It was thought the house would be submerged by the new reservoir but the water level never did reach the ruins.


Rabbit Restaurant Chelsea London + Taittinger Champagne

Chelsea Tractor

“Running… Running uphill…” (Rabbit, Run by John Updike, 1961). After a Taits (our new fav Reims bubbles) pre party, it might be past Mercury Retrograde and Wolf Moon is just a memory yet we’re still running the roads. “Oh dear! Oh dear! We sha’n’t be too late!” We’re off to the wonderland that is the Sussex-farm-to-King’s-Road-fork Rabbit restaurant. “Spring, fall, summer, autumn: a life as well as a year has its seasons.” (Rabbit, Run, once more). For fork’s sake, a menu, too, has its seasons, especially when the owners tell, “We use all things wild, foraged and locally grown, including sustainable livestock from the Gladwins’ family farm in West Sussex. We call this ‘local and wild’.” We’re local and we’re wild.

They’ve more to say, “We grow and produce a range of award winning wines in our very own Nutbourne Vineyards. The 10 hectares of landscape are carefully looked after to preserve the natural habitat. We grow Bacchus, Riesling family varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We produce 40,000 bottles each year. We like our customers to enjoy a bottle of Nutbourne Wine in the spirit of ‘what grows together goes together’.”

Keeping it savoury we chase in hot and cold pursuit: mushroom marmite éclairs, egg confit, cornichon; whipped cod roe, crisp bread, English caviar; baked truffle Tunworth, caraway crisp bread, beetroot and pear chutney; grilled leek hearts, sesame yoghurt, truffle, seed clusters, chicory. Big seasonality on small plates. Restauranteur brothers GladwinGregory, Oliver and Richard – clearly know their spring onions and winter truffle.

Rabbit is carefully casual with a haphazard picture hang on the exposed brick walls and the odd bit of taxidermy in between. Something resembling a cattle grid droops from the corrugated metal ceiling. Or maybe it is a cattle grid. This restaurant is a celebration of rustic farmhouse dining with urban views. At one end of the simple L shape – this is no rabbit warren – is the frenetic King’s Road. At the other end, a picture window frames Burnsall Street with its boxy dormered Dutch gabled Marseille pantile roofed Juliet balconied chamfered bayed sun kissed pastel coloured townhouses. Clientele are well heeled, literally; this is after all the fashionista friendly St Luke’s Parish. Bunny Rogers would approve.

Hare today, gone tomorrow. Rabbit has been a King’s Road fixture for eight years now but other London establishments haven’t survived so long. Shrimpy’s at King’s Cross, was, admittedly a pop up, a meantime use on a development site overlooking the canal at Granary Square. A petrol filling station was rapidly converted into a deconstructivist seafood restaurant offering the best seabass ceviche and plantains that 2012 London had to offer. Like most hotel restaurants the top floor of the London Hilton on Hyde Park has had several reboots. Its currently Galvin at Windows is named after Chef Patron Chris Galvin. Critic Jonathan Meades reviews its predecessor Windows on the World in The Times Restaurant Guide 2002:

Jacques Rolancey, the Lyonnais Chef, is truer to his native cooking that he is to the imperatives of international hotel practice. His lack of fancy is remarkable. Flavours are confidently unexaggerated. Scallops with white truffle and balsamic vinegar are excellent. Cannelloni is stuffed with a light spinach and herb mixture sauced with a vegetable jus…” We’re up for a bit of channelling John Updike’s character Rabbit. We’re running, always running, into the light, that eternally focused light.

Meanwhile, there’s a narcissistic golden rabbit on the loose in County Tyrone.


The McClellands Belfast + Down

Relatively Speaking

Great Grandmother Elizabeth McClelland and a companion captured living their best lives at Bellevue Zoo Belfast. The hot and heady August of 1928. What are their thoughts? How were they feeling? Great Granny had a feather in her hat, as always. But who is her glamorous dark eyed sallow skinned high cheek boned wide brim hatted mysterious chum? They’ve both posies pinned to their lapels; clearly this was a big day out.

Who is the gentleman in the wheelchair, gazing right as if in anticipation of a motorcar pulling up shortly? Why else would anyone photograph a subject from the rear? Where is that Edwardian looking house with its catslide roofed return? It appears to face the sea. Somewhere on the Irish coast? Did the person behind the camera realise he or she was taking a beautifully lit and proportioned piece of photographic art? Or was it just a lucky snap?

Aunt Pam and a friend loving the pigeons of Trafalgar Square. Having the time of their lives. Bring the birds back! Note Aunt Pam’s perfectly pleated coat: she stood an impressive six feet tall. Pamela Glenday wasn’t an actual aunt. She was the best friend of Elizabeth Gribben whose mother was photographed at Bellevue Zoo. They met at country houses across the south of England in their late teens. Aunt Pam moved back to Dunfermline and never married. She was a great cook.

Ah, Uncle Sammy. A blood uncle or rather great uncle. Another child of Great Granny McClelland; Elizabeth Gribben’s younger brother. Ever debonair, Sammy was in a rush through life except when posing in fashion’s finest; he never had time to get married. After a high flying career in the Royal Air Force, Sammy lived in England and Wales before settling back in Ireland.

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Kimpton Clocktower Hotel Manchester + Alfred Waterhouse

It is Good to be Here

Superlux brand Kimpton has four hotels on mainland Britain. North of the border, the two hotels are neoclassical: Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, and Blythswood Square, Glasgow. The two south of the border are High Victorian: Russell Square, London, and Oxford Street, Manchester. The late afternoon winter sunlight streaming down makes the terracotta all clear: Kimpton Clockhouse Hotel in Manchester is a panoply of barley twist columns and stylised ionic capitals and naturalistic floral patterns sculpted out of the red stuff, all towering up from the sweet flow of the River Medlock. The brick walls are aglow, on fire, red on red. The trio of buildings which form the hotel are the last bloom of High Victoriana; in fact they’re an overflow of this most dramatic of styles, for the iconic 66 metre tall clocktower was only completed in 1912.

The Refuge Assurance Building was built in 1895 to the design of master of the age Alfred Waterhouse. Architect Paul Waterhouse extended his father’s design and Stanley Birkett completed the vast urban block. Across the city near the Town Hall designed by Alfred Waterhouse is Friends’ Meeting House. It wins the award for most blind windows: just two of the window positions out of 10 on the west facing Southmill Street elevation are glazed. Jean and John Bradburn write in their 2018 Central Manchester History Tour, “This fine building was designed in 1828 by Richard Lane, a Quaker architect – one of his pupils was Alfred Waterhouse. The cost of the building – £7,600 – was raised by subscription from local Quakers, one of whom was John Dalton, the famous chemist and discoverer of atomic theory who worshipped here for years.”

Another famous, or rather infamous, building in Manchester city centre designed by Alfred Waterhouse is HMP Manchester, otherwise known as Strangeways Gaol. It predates the Refuge Assurance Building by three decades. The public facing gatehouse is a red brick building with sandstone dressings. It’s French Gothic in style, as if Château du Nessay had landed on Southall Street. Cassie Britland notes in Manchester Something Rich and Strange, edited by Paul Dobraszczy and Sarah Butler, 2020, “the prison owes its distinctive radial design to the panopticon architectural concept and the ‘separate’ system of prison management”.

Delivering a lecture on The Oratory Competition 1878: Who Were The Architects? at The London Oratory, Dr Roderick O’Donnell states, “Alfred Waterhouse was appointed assessor of the competition to design a new church for The Oratory. He was an interesting choice: a Congregationalist from Manchester. His architectural career started in Manchester with the design of Strangeways Prison. Waterhouse was incredibly ambitious and a fantastic professional; he came in on price. Waterhouse designed the second Victorian Eaton Hall in Cheshire.”

In their 1998 Manchester Architecture Guide, Eamonn Canniffe and Tom Jefferies lead with, “The cutting of Whitworth Street in the 1890s results in a series of large self confident buildings along it. a monument to insurance, the mammoth Refuge Building exploits the full possibilities of architectural ceramics. Its interior employs white glazed brick for the former office space, but the exterior exploits the potential of terracotta for insistent repetitive ornament over large surfaces. Articulated frames to the high windows culminate in barley sugar columns, while the great brick tower is a landmark in many directions. The porte cochère beneath it, with its glazed dome and memorial to the company’s War Dead, is now the reception for the Palace Hotel which currently occupies this dramatic and robust building.”

A cluster of contemporary talent has worked on moulding the Palace Hotel into the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. 3DReid Architects explain, “Our work on the hotel, the former Palace Hotel, sought to strip back poor interventions made in the 1990s and reposition is as a ‘lifestyle hotel’ worthy of the building’s history and character. In the former Refuge Assurance Hall we created a new Winter Garden as the focus of the space, surrounded by a new bar, restaurant and den. This enabled the space to be used as an ‘all day offer’. One of the key moves was improving circulation routes around the buildings that make up the hotel.” Michaelis Boyd were the interior designers and the 360 guest rooms and 11 suites are brightened by Timorous Beasties textiles.

The grander than grand ground floor spaces of the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel are all abuzz: the late afternoon winter sunlight streaming down makes the encaustic tiling all clear – and reflects off the hair curlers in female guests’ emerging hairdos. A bronze horse sculpture by Sophie Dickens, granddaughter of the writer, welcomes visitors in the marble floored stone walled glass domed entrance lobby. Up a few stairs, along a corridor – there are lots of stairs and corridorsc – and the bar and dining room have been branded The Refuge. This 930 square metre space spills into the Winter Garden which was formed by glazing over a courtyard. It is good, oh so good, to be here. Later, the bright and cloudless morning will break, eternal bright and fair.

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63 Degrees Restaurant Manchester + Lavender’s Blue

Spinning Plates

After tiny plates, small plates, medium sized plates, large plates, supersized plates in London, how refreshing it is to head up north to order a three course set menu. Starter: Velouté de châtaignes (chestnut soup); main: Filet de dorade poêlé (pan fried sea bream fillet); pudding: Crème brûlée, correctly served with a torched top. Photogenic, subtly rich, and very French. In case diners forget this is a Parisian restaurant, the walls are hung with pictures and maps of the French capital. Chef owner Eric Moreau’s business card is emblazoned with a picture of Sacré-Coeur.

It’s the perfect temperature for serving coffee and Monsieur Moreau assures us 63 degrees Celsius is the optimal temperature for cooking. “Cooked long and low at 63 degrees, food tastes like you’ve never tasted it before. So 63 degrees represents for us the love and care that goes into all our cooking.” But before all that heat we need a chilled bottle of Sancerre. “’Au jour d’hui comme autrofois’ Domaine Daniel Brochard is a 2018 to 2019 vintage. It’s produced as Daniel Brochard’s ancestors would have done without any fining, filtration or temperature control to give an incredible intensity of flavour. The aroma is packed with intense gooseberry and nettle perfume.”

“Taxi sirs?” asks the maître d’ as we finish lunch. “Strangeways Prison please.”

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Northern Quarter + Mackie Mayor Manchester

Meet Your Meat

Manchester is gritty not pretty and all the better for it. The monumentality of its Victorian built heritage is so overwhelming it swallows up the odd ugly 20th century infill. The city’s simplistic branding works well, from Chinatown (red balloons in the sky) to the Northern Quarter (grey bollards on the ground). First year 1990s town planning degree buzzwords are at play: legibility and permeability. Another thing the city does well is subtle restoration – respecting the patina of age.

The best example of this less is more approach to conservation is Mackie Mayor in the Northern Quarter. Built in 1858, this neoclassical stone meat market hall was once at the heart of Smithfield Market. It’s now the last surviving fully intact building from that era. After decades lying empty, Muse Developments have restored it as the centrepiece of their Smithfield regeneration project. It is named after Ivie Mackie, Mayor of Manchester, who opened the market in 1858.

The cavernous indoor space with its roof lanterns has been retained with bars and food outlets along the outer walls encircling the central dining spaces. On a cold Saturday afternoon the place is teeming. Towards evening, local girls pour in unselfconsciously wearing large hair curlers in their hair. The manicured Mancunians take their nightlife seriously. Some guys are in football tops while others have opted for the boho look. In a way nothing has changed since Mayor Mackie opened Mackie Mayor all those centuries ago. It’s still a meat market.


Manchester + Lavender’s Blue

Manchester + Lavender’s Blue

Streetcar. Hamburg. Back Piccadilly. Village. Georgian. Terracotta. Wind. Bellboy. Hair curlers. Hacienda. Named. Venice. Back Pool Fold. Town. Victorian. Brick. Rain. Chambermaid. Short skirts. Mossy. Desire. Backstreet. Quarter. Edwardian. Tiles. Sun. Barman. Long nights. Gear.

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Crescent Grove Clapham London +

Song to the Wolf Moon

It’s as if the word ‘enclave’ had been invented just for Crescent Grove. So near the madding crowd yet a world away from it all. The pairs of houses marking the entrance to this exclusive residential area may be visible from the Bedlamic High Street but the only nightlife you’ll find in Crescent Grove is the odd owl in the trees. Today, as the Wolf Moon waits for twilight, the winter sun casts long shadows darkening leafy foregrounds and sharpening stuccoed corners.

Clapham street names like to state the obvious: Long Road, bisecting the Common, isn’t short; The Pavement is pedestrian friendly; The Polygon is an irregular five sided block; and Crescent Grove – guess what? – is a curved terrace opposite a group of trees. Although the latter also has a straight row of attached houses on the opposite side of the miniature woods. The enclave radiates old money: gentlemen here are more likely to drive their convertible than board the omnibus. Crescent Grove is a reminder of Clapham’s historic origins: sects in the city begain in SW4.

Gillian Clegg records in Clapham Past, 1998, “Between 1800 and 1860 Clapham’s reputation as a place of wealth and comfort at first attracted speculative developers with an eye to richer clients. The most prestigious new development was Clapham Park laid out by Thomas Cubitt. Two smaller but stylish developments were Crescent Grove and Grafton Square.” A new world of Londonisation descended on semirural Surrey.

The author continues, “Crescent Grove, comprising an elegant curved terrace on one side and semidetached houses linked by coach houses on the other was laid out in 1824 by Francis Child. The entrance to the estate was through ornamental gates flanking the two larger houses facing South Side. Child was concerned to keep his estate exclusive and all but four of the houses were conveyed to other members of his family.”